It’s rather a shame that a pretty good day’s play of Test Cricket will more be remembered for an indiscretion off the pitch rather than the actual play on it, but then that’s what happens when such a high profile cricketer such as Ben Stokes has a less than cordial chat with one of the fans. There have been people all over the place suggesting at what might have been said to Stokes, but this is pure guesswork as only Stokes himself know what abuse was hurled at him and really the player should know better in getting himself into a situation that was a lose-lose. I imagine Mr. Stokes will be getting an invite into the match referee’s room at some point whereby he’ll be a few quid lighter and a demerit point or two heavier. Anyway enough about that nonsense, no matter how much it’s serialised by the journos.
As for the game itself, it proved to be a rather entertaining day’s play once the rain had cleared with either side in the position to claim that they won the day’s play or not. There were both positives and negatives for England with the main positive being that Joe Root called the toss right on the fourth successive occasion and the main negative being the loss of Jofra Archer to injury with the reoccurrence of his elbow injury. The bad trot of injuries that England have suffered on this tour can’t just be put down to bad luck (except that of Rory Burns) but more the fact the players are being continuously ground into the ground with this crazy schedule. I think we’ll all be happy if England return home without contracting Ebola or something similar.
On a day when there was a bit of cloud cover over the ground, Root chose the correct decision to have a bat when he may well have been sorely tempted to bowl and was handsomely rewarded by his opening pair who scored the first century partnership for England since Chennai in 2016. That it has been this long really does highlight the struggles that England have had at the opening slot for more than a while and the reason why we have so often seen England at 50 odd for 4 on more than a few occasions in the not so distant past. The pair of Crawley and Sibley complimented each other particularly well, with the former playing some majestic strokes against a wayward attack with the latter compact and able to put away the bad ball of which there were many within the first session of cricket we got. Zak Crawley indeed looks like a real talent and a gem of a find as he has got better and more confident with every innings he’s played and now looks like he is starting to believe he belongs in Test Cricket. In fact, he looked nailed on for a century before being hit by a nasty bouncer by Nortje, which in turn gave him a rather ugly egg on his forehead and certainly affected his batting after this. It would not be a surprise to see him declared with a concussion tomorrow morning as he looked particularly shaky after that nasty hit on the head. This is very much in marked contrast with Joe Denly who has admirably tried with every sinew in his body to adapt to the Test game but has never really looked like he belongs at this level. With Rory Burns hopefully returning for the Sri Lanka tour, then Denly may find himself out of the team with Crawley replacing him at 3. It will be interesting mind to see how much sway Clever Ed puts in Denly’s leg spinning filth on pitches that are likely to turn.
For South Africa, the 2 sessions couldn’t have been markedly different. In the first session they bowled too short and too loose on a pitch that was offering bounce but not much else. Indeed it seemed fitting that the only time they made the batsman make an error and play at a delivery they shouldn’t have; it was wiped out by Big Philander overstepping the mark. It was a sloppy session from a team bereft of confidence. However any thoughts that England could steamroller them were so put to bed with 2 quick wickets, firstly a horrible strangle down the legside that seems to get Sibley out too often and then a nothing play or leave shot from the brain frazzled Crawley. South Africa then bowled extremely tidily for the rest of the session with Denly who had looked all over the place the first to go, closely followed by a rare misjudgement from Stokes, who played an overly ambitious shot early in his innings which led to the frank exchange of opinions that I spoke about above.
So onto Day 2 with the match evenly poised. If Root and Pope can take the lead up to somewhere close to 300 then England will be driving seat; however a couple of quick wickets for South Africa could lead to England struggling to get up to 250. The forecast isn’t particularly clever for tomorrow, so we are likely to have another rain interrupted day.
On a final note, I did find it incredibly surprising that neither team picked a front line spinner. I understand that Bullring hasn’t been a great hunting ground for spinners over the years; however the pitch does often break up on Day 4 or Day 5 and so not to pick a frontline spinner seems negligent to me. The only time I would ever consider picking a team without spinner is if the pitch resembled the St. Lawrence Ground in early April or Sabina Park back in 1998! Time will tell if I’m right or not, but I have a suspicion both captains might be rueing their selection decisions by the end of the match.
As ever thoughts or comments are always welcome.